Tablet-like touch interface comes to everyday objects

Researchers at Disney and Carnegie Mellon have developed Touché, an interface system where multiple gestures can be added to existing touchscreens and other objects, including "smart doorknobs".

Smarter than your average doorknob: the Disney Pittsburgh-Carnegie Mellow touch-based gesture system delivers different commands based on how the doorknob is touched. Two fingers could show a "be right back" sign on the door, while a circular grasp would lock the door.
(Credit: Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science)

Researchers have developed a way to take the multi-touch interface of tablets and smartphones to a whole new level and set of objects.

Disney Research in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University last week announced a touch-interface technology called Touché that brings a new set of gestures to existing touchscreens, and can make anything from tabletops to body parts have computer input devices.

It could lead to a "smart doorknob" that unlocks when grasped in a certain way, or a couch that turns on the TV when a person sits down, and turns off when the person falls asleep. The technology will also allow people to add new inputs to smartphones by pinching the front and back of the device.

Touché can also make the body an input device, allowing people to hold their fingers up to their lips to turn music off on their digital-music players. "It is not inconceivable that mobile devices will have no screens or buttons, and rely on the body for the input surface," one of the researchers said in an explanatory video.

Different gestures translate into different frequencies, allowing for a wide set of user inputs for a computerised device.
(Credit: Carnegie Mellon University)

Existing capacitive touchscreens operate by the changes that a person's finger makes on the patterns of electric charge on a screen. The device translates motions into user inputs, such as clicking a hyperlink or typing, and has a transparent conductor layer under the glass to relay the electrical signals as data.

Typical capacitive touchscreens generally operate as a binary system — either the user is touching the screen or not. The Disney-Carnegie Mellon research, by contrast, developed a system to sample the return voltage from the user's touch many times, resulting in a range of frequency values.

That technique, called Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing (SFCS), allows the system to capture more information and operate with different types of gestures beyond just touching or not touching. So, in addition to touching an object with a fingertip, a user could send different commands by pinching or grasping.

"In our laboratory experiments, we were able to enhance a broad variety of objects with high-fidelity touch sensitivity. When combined with gesture-recognition techniques, Touché demonstrated recognition rates approaching 100 per cent. That suggests it could immediately be used to create new and exciting ways for people to interact with objects and the world at large," Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research, Pittsburgh, said in a statement.

The researchers conducted experiments where an existing touchscreen was enhanced with the equivalent of a right mouse click and copy/paste commands based on pinching a smartphone's screen and back.

The smart doorknob proof of concept lets a person touch the door knob in one way to display a "be right back sign" on their office door, while another will lock the door.

A table, too, could become sensitive to different gestures. "This might enable us to one day do away with keyboards, mice and perhaps even conventional touchscreens for many applications," said research team member Chris Harrison.


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krzystoff posted a comment   

this sounds promising, when you read it is rudimentary terms, as a more intuitive language for communicating with our devices/digital avatars in the future.
however to reap the enormous potential of this, we need a huge skills and memory adjustment -- by way of comparison, if you had to remember all the passwords you use on the your computer/internet and more, without the aid of keys for input, most people would probably struggle to remember all of them. this potentially makes any/every surface around us into a control/security interface. unfortunately in practice, most grown adults alive today will fail to benefit from it. younger/future generations apparently have greater potential to learn/adapt to dramatically new interfaces like this concept. just think of your keyboard -- if you learned how to use a computer before 1990, you probably don't routinely use many of the shortcut keys on your keyboard, even though they've been the same for a decade or more.

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